Point Betsie Light

Point Betsie Light is located on the northeast shore of Lake Michigan — at the southern entrance to the Manitou Passage — north of Frankfort in Benzie County in Northern Michigan. Construction began in 1858, but it was not completed until 1858, and began service in the shipping season of 1859. The lighthouse cost $5000 to build. In 1875, a life saving station was built for $3000.


The light was originally equipped with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens (pronounced /freɪˈnɛl/) with bullseye, which was upgraded to a Third order (with bullseye) in 1880. The latter was visible for 27.5 miles (44.3 km), because of the high placement of the tower (focal plane of 52.5 feet) and the efficacy of the lens design. The Fresnel Lens was removed in 1996, and there are plans to display it at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The cylindrical tower is 39 feet (12 m) tall, but sits on a dune. It is attached to the Lighthouse keepers house, which was upgraded to an attractive gambrel roof design.

This was one of the earliest Life Saving Station, and was run under the auspices of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. In 1910 the United States Lighthouse Board was reconstituted as the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In 1939 these agencies were merged under the control of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Prior to being automated in 1983, the 'wickies' operated the light for 106 years. This was the last manned lighthouse on Lake Michiganm and the last Michigan lighthouse to lose its keeper. The light is now a Vega VRB-25 system. The new optic would be visible for a range of 15 to 22 miles (35 km), depending on the bulb used.

In addition to the light tower, keeper's house, and lifesaving station, the site presently includes a fog signal building and an oil house.

Fog signals have received much attention at Point Betsie. In the autumn of 1912, the fog signal building was rebuilt. The 10-inch (250 mm) locomotive whistles were replaced by 10-inch (250 mm) chime whistles. Meanwhile, the lamp was upgraded to an incandescent oil vapor system, with an intensity of 55,000 candlepower. In 1921, upon being connected to the electrical power grid, aa 110-volt electric bulb was installed, and the fog signal upgraded to twin Type "G" diaphones, driven by electric air compressors. The diaphone doubled the audible radius, and had the added benefit that it could be brought on line immediately, without waiting for steam engines to build pressure. The following April the fog signal's characteristic was changed to a group of two blasts every 30 seconds.

The light is located on Point Betsie, Michigan, which in turn is part of a recognized terrestrial marine near shore ecosystem, dominated by a coastal dune with unique flora and fauna, including Pitcher's Thistle, Lake Huron Locust, and fascicled broomrape.

Sign posted at lighthouse
Current status

The station was transferred to Benzie County under the terms of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2004.

It has been repainted to its original color scheme, which had not been seen since the 1940s. The "Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse" have undertaken a complete restoration of the station.

Point Betsie is said to be one of America's most photographed lighthouses, and the most-visited attraction in Benzie County. Because of its picturesque form and location, it is often the subject of photographs and drawings. Even needlepoint illustrations have been rendered.

It is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Reference #84001375.

Specialized further reading
  • Hawley, Jonathon P., Point Betsie: Lightkeeping and Lifesaving on Northeastern Lake Michigan 264 p., 61 B&W photos (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press 2008) ISBN 9780472033188.


2 photos

Building Activity

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